To Fight or Not to Fight
a Narcissist in Family Court
They say, “pick your battles,” right? Well, I found this to be absolutely true. I couldn’t not fight a narcissist, because the narcissist wanted a fight. Showing up and capitulating (handing everything over) never felt good and was never enough for him. Sometimes, I had to fight. (READ: Steps To Win Against a Narcissist in Family Court)
What I needed was discernment. The gift of understanding and the ability to know and separate truths. I didn’t know what to do or when. I asked my domestic violence counselor, my Al-Anon sponsor, my therapist, life coaches, friends, and several attorneys what to do, and they all had different answers. Every legal consultation had a different strategy and way they would approach my case, as well as a completely different cost. There was no single answer to get me out of the hell on Earth of co-parenting with a narcissist. I began seeking out the experts in narcissism and sociopathy. I was scared. He felt dangerous, and my child was in harm’s way.
Family Court With a Narcissist
What I learned over the course of ten years in the U.S. Family Court was that trying to be peaceful with an angry, bitter, narcissistic ex was impossible. The courts were the battlefield, this was an all-out war, and paper bullets were flying. My ex used the system as a sword against me in every way possible. I didn’t fight back hard enough; actually, I didn’t fight much at all with my low-paid attorney. This was my lawyer’s plan that ultimately failed me but saved me around $200,000. He said that his strategy was called “rope-a-dope,” similar to a boxing approach. Basically, we let the opponent fire all the shots and eventually wear themselves out financially with the high-powered, expensive attorney. Then, his plan was to come out swinging at the end.
However, my ex was a wealthy narcissist protected in his family’s business and living with his parents. In addition, my attorney got sick during my trial and didn’t “end the game swinging.” I was out-matched and out-lawyered in my trial, and I knew this. However, I couldn’t afford an adequate attorney at the time, and this one was practically offering his services pro-bono. He took all my S.O.S. phone calls and provided me with tons of free legal advice in an on-call emergency way. He was with me for six long years and knew all the problems. I counted on his knowledge of everything to get me through a legal battle with a narcissist, and yet, I lost my legal rights.
However, I was able to retain 50% physical custody and lots of child support (something my ex vehemently wanted to end). After that lengthy trial, during court-ordered co-parenting therapy, I tried to negotiate giving him child support to split everything and stop the court battle. I had heard that you could negotiate with a narcissist using leverage. But, my ex declined. He made it clear that he would rather be in total and complete control of me and pay a hefty sum for that. His parting words were, “I don’t care how much it costs!” That’s when I realized that while you might be able to negotiate with a narcissist, you can’t with a sociopath! My ex had both afflictions, so unfortunately my case was one of the worst.
The Game of Survival vs. The Game of Winning
Horrified family and friends said, “fight it, fight it, fight it!” They wanted me to file back. They wanted me to appeal. But he was angry and hostile. They saw him as a non-threat but I knew better! For example, in my presence, my ex always mentioned how many guns he owned. Oh, and then there’s that time that my drivers’ side tire was slashed when I did win something in court and he had to pay my legal fees — I had a legitimate fear for good reason. I wanted to stay alive, keep my child alive, and not be annihilated in the fight. There are stories of mothers losing their lives, murder-suicides, and children being killed by sociopathic fathers in high-conflict court cases. When backed into a corner, these men tend to not back down and sometimes take everyone out with them. I didn’t want us to be casualties.
I didn’t want us to be that case that makes news headlines, so I trod carefully when it came to court. Letting him feel like he has won, is winning, and is in control stopped the direct threats to our existence, but it was so tough to psychologically take that I was being controlled by an ex’s personality disorder in order to stay alive. It felt worse than an episode of Survivor and having to eat bugs and slugs to make it. It was just as sickening to “stomach,” but this was a game of survival, not so much a game of winning.
That’s why I sought out as many opinions as I could from the experts. I didn’t want to step on a land mine or have my ex blow us all up with his hatred. It always felt like he had a grenade strapped to his vest and didn’t care who would be hurt. That’s probably the antisocial personality disorder problem he suffers from. I felt doomed when I realized he had both that disorder and narcissism.
Strategy Against a Narcissist
Some of the coaches I talked with told me that, “You never want to fight a narcissist — ever.” On the other hand, an expert who was all for filing/fighting said that she had clients “mysteriously die and disappear” on occasion, and she didn’t think it was accidental. I wanted to heed the warnings. Those who weren’t for fighting, the conservative coaches, advised me to use strategy and work around my ex instead. They said that if I wanted justice, I would have to wait for it. One expert was convinced that these types of personality disorders eventually implode. I had a feeling that she was right, but would my child be there when it happened?
It was suggested that I shift my thinking to “beat him at his own game.” Okay, how? What do I do? What do I not do? I needed a concrete plan because it was so mentally disturbing to my momma-bear mind how my alcoholic ex would be fully in charge of our child whom he has harmed, neglected, and endangered. Clearly, my attorney failed at proving this in court. He told me that his strategy didn’t involve attacking my ex severely because the judge threatened to place our child in foster care if he couldn’t figure out who the safe parent was. And I didn’t want that! So, did I lose on purpose then?
So, yes. I had to “pick my battles.” This meant that I had to fight sometimes, but only through a better attorney. Allowing the court-order to be as it was for a few years, was emotionally upsetting because I knew our child wasn’t in the best hands or being given the best care, but I had to tell myself things like “she’s safe,” because I knew where she was living (with his parents and that his mom was his chief enabler, ahem, I mean babysitter). I had to tell myself that if I have peace, we are alive. . . then I have won all that I could with this toxic type. I had to tell myself to use strategy, not fight. Truth was, I didn’t want it to be worse than it already was, and I knew that I was not ever going to get everything I wanted from the family court. The family court turned out to be very incapable of detecting or preventing abuse. Plus, it was never going to be fair, because there is no fairness with a narcissist.
Words from the wise repeated in my head:
“Never fight them. It will never be equal. I will never get everything. It will never be fair because there is no fairness. Let this shit go, or there will be NO end to the hell. There are things you have to sacrifice to deal with these monsters. They will do ANYTHING to keep control.”
A Marathon with a Monster — Long Term Strategy
I didn’t want to start up filing motions against my ex because the peace was worth more. I knew that I wasn’t going to get everything I wanted. I agonized over what to do as he was always in contempt of court for not following the court order exactly. Eventually, my strategy became to allow my new, competent attorney to file the contempts whenever my ex filed to reduce child support (which he often did and lost each and every time). This was my leverage. He was in contempt and he knew it. He would never be happy with any court order and had unlimited family money to beat me with. I was a low-income, single mom and no match to an established million-dollar family business that supplied him with funds to fight. Of course, his family backed him up to keep themselves safe, too. I had nothing to back me up but the truth, and we all know that that isn’t always enough to win in family court.
Here was one of my game plans (subject to change):
- Keep my new attorney by not calling him every day
- Ask him to file the many contempts, but only if my ex files something in court
- Keep my daughter in therapy, and emotionally support her through the emotional abuse
- Placate my ex and be nice to him
- Use the court-ordered Family Wizard to document his pattern of behavior
- Use the court-ordered Family Wizard to document my pattern of behavior
- Enroll our child in sports so that I see her more
- Offer to help him with pick-ups and rides to get more time with her
- Follow the court order exactly
- Parallel-parent, and don’t count on him for his cooperation
- Wait for justice
- Live my life, focus on my healing, and help others
This became my recipe for now on how to survive the hell of co-parenting with a narcissist/sociopath. I had to take all the advice into account and match what applied in my case. What I had was a long-game plan in place. This would be a marathon with a monster. I had: a better attorney, a therapist for my child who knew who my ex was, support people in place for me who got narcissists and sociopaths, and my sanity.
Preserving Sanity After Being With a Narcissist
I was still bothered, though. It always boggled my mind. How did I leave the abusive alcoholic to save myself and my child only to have him win all the legal rights and unsupervised time? It made no sense. I learned what post-separation abuse is first-hand. I was being financially and legally abused now. MY NEWS FLASH: Just because I left my abuser didn’t mean that he would stop being abusive! I learned that I had to fight back but do it with the right weapons and wisdom. And for the most part, let my new attorney do all the fighting. I had won much of my freedom from him, now I needed to preserve my sanity in the midst of this insanity. I learned to pick my battles and let most of his draining games go. Today, my child thrives, and secretly so do I.
If you need help creating and crafting your own survival and sanity plan, book a “Strategy Session” with me HERE.
—Grace W. Wroldson, mother, author, survivor, and thriver of 5 self-help books available on Amazon!
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Read my helpful books:
- Co-Parenting with a Narcissist: 7 Self-Rules to Stay Sane (A Survivor’s Story)
- How-To Fight a Narcissist in Family Court and Win: Super-Smart Strategies for Success
- Co-Parenting with a Sociopath: Survival and Sanity Guide
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*Disclaimer: These are helpful tips based solely on the author’s thoughts and opinions. The author is not a qualified mental health professional nor a crisis caseworker. She cannot give legal advice or appropriate counsel and is therefore not liable for any injury or harm. Please follow your doctor’s, therapist’s, counselor’s, and lawyer’s advice, as well as your own good common sense and intuition based on your unique case—to see if these tips could be helpful. Child custody situations may vary where some of these will not be applicable for your circumstance. Furthermore, court orders may dictate otherwise. Please use your own good judgment when reviewing this document. This is for personal self-help only. These were created from the author’s own lived experience and not based on any laws or rules of the courts. This is copyright protected by the author and is not to be sold, distributed, or quoted without the author’s written consent.